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Old 08-19-2014, 09:53 AM   #1
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OT: Heating and Air guys - I need a hot tip

My house is an older home built in the late 50s, and the AC system that it has now was installed in 1994, it is a 3 ton heat pump system (located in North FL) - the house is (supposedly) 2200 heated sq ft.

It froze up last night, and today the man came and determine that it is out of refrigerant (the coils were at 20f). I bought the house April 2013, and the system has been working good so far. I don't know when it was last filled but it has been working good so far.

Apparently it uses an older type of refrigerant, and new systems are much more efficient, etc. etc. They say they can add refrigerant now at $75 for the first pound and $45 per additional pound. They say they can only put it in once and then if it leaks out again they can't re-add without resolving the issue. They say it is better at this point to just get a new system.

The existing system is 20 years old... Should I go ahead and get a new system? Or should I pursue trying to nurse some more life out of this existing one? Is there a procedure for searching for a leak and fixing it? What is the service life of a unit like this?

What questions should I be asking? I had a meeting so they are coming back with some quotes on new systems.
Thank you!

Steve

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Old 08-19-2014, 10:11 AM   #2
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We were advised of the same thing when our unit went out 10 years ago. The existing unit was 20 years old, and we just replaced everything.

The efficiency of the modern units is far superior to the older ones. We noticed a decrease in our electric bill when we upgraded.

It gets mighty hot here in Texas. Just one day without AC in the middle of the summer will convince you to upgrade and have the unit serviced every year, during the winter when AC techs are readily available and cheaper.

Just sayin'..............

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Old 08-19-2014, 10:13 AM   #3
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Sounds like R12 vs. R134A problem. Older systems used the R12, which is bad for the environment and no longer used, hence the cost and new laws that prohibit multiple recharges.

I'd ask how much the repair vs. replacement costs are going to be. If the cost of the repair, including the now banned R12 gas starts to run into a lot of money, you would be better off going for a new unit as it would used less electrical power and keep the house temp better. Particularly if the old unit craps out again in a year. And if you replace the unit, buy quality (I prefer Trane, but there are other good units out there).
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Old 08-19-2014, 10:27 AM   #4
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Exact same scenario happened when we bought our house 10 years ago.
We replaced the old unit before it ended up costing us a fortune.
(insert joke about fixing Boxsters often here....)
I think by the time you diagnose where you lost all your coolant, repair and replace the bad parts and recharge, you will be a good step towards all new equipment.
Good luck.
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Old 08-19-2014, 10:42 AM   #5
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get a home warranty and it should be covered
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Old 08-19-2014, 10:53 AM   #6
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It sounds like a leak in the coil of the old system. They have proposed several new systems, the one I like is a Seer 16 2 stage compressor system, Merv 11 filter, bi polar ionization system, and a 9.0 HSPF rating whatever that is. All inclusive $9888 and they are "checking" to see if there are any coupons. The next one up is a SEER 18 system, 5 stage compressor for $13414.

Are these prices in line? Should I go for the higher system? I plan to be here for 10+ years.

Edit: 4 ton systems, 2200 sq ft

Edit 2: Just talked with my brother in law who runs a commercial heating and air business (not locally) he says that is too high and get some additional quotes so that is what I am doing...

Last edited by steved0x; 08-19-2014 at 11:23 AM.
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Old 08-19-2014, 03:36 PM   #7
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So quick question. What is your thermostat set to? That should have been the techs first question. If it was set for less than 67 or 68, reset it for 69 or 70. Your system is an R-22 system and without a metering device like a TXV it is going to freeze the coil trying to get to 68 or lower in higher humidity locations.

If your stat was set for higher than 68 then there is a chance that you have a leak and/or are low on charge but it has to be small if you are still cooling. The tech should have pulled out a refer sniffer and been able to pinpoint the leak pretty quickly. If you have a leak they are at a joint or on a coil end 99% of the time. So he has to check around the coil connection and at the condensing unit outside.

There are likely state and Federal rebates going for a SEER 16 or 18 unit in your area to help offset the upgrade cost and it should count as a deduct on your fed taxes (I am pretty sure the program is still in place).

If it were me I would have him find the leak and fix it. (But I work in the commercial side of the industry and have guys on staff to do it for me.) If it is in the lineset or coil it is an easy fix. The worst it could be is replacing the coil at your heat pump fan coil (fan in the house). That is a $300-$350 part. Factor in 4 hrs to evacuate the refer, replace the coil and reset the charge and you should be less than $800-850 for the repair. (BTW R-22 wholesale costs is around $20-22/# not $74 or $40 like he quoted and he can reuse the refer in your system and just top it off when he recharges).

That said, at 20 yrs you are at the end of the service life of the equipment and you plan to be there a while so if you have the cash replace it. Be warned that the payback is probably not there based on energy efficiency (probably 7-8+ years in your climate). I assume that the $9888 includes a new heat pump fan coil, new condensing unit outside, new piping between the two, permit, electrical disconnect/reconnect etc, removing and recycling of the old system, warranty and taxes. If that is the case then he is $1000-$2000 high. Really should be in the $7000-$8000 range. The 16 SEER equipment is worth around $4000 (without the ion filter). There is no payback on the 18 SEER BTW. You only use that system because you want to be 'green' and are willing to pay to do it.
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Old 08-19-2014, 04:43 PM   #8
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Air conditioning? Isn't that when you open the windows at night when it gets down to 48° F in the summer ?
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Old 08-19-2014, 05:03 PM   #9
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I had a second guy come out and he put 2.5 lbs of Refrigerant in the system and I am back! He thinks he identified the leak as a cap that you unscrew to do some of the testing, and he sealed it back up with a liquid thread sealer type of deal. He said to monitor it and if it all leaks out quickly then it will be time to dig in and see if we can do some more troubleshooting.

My former brother in law who runs a commercial HVAC company in the panhandle said that sounds like a good approach.

I will say that it is taking a while for the temp to get back down. But I am pretty sure it will be back to 75 by morning. But now I don't have to take the first overpriced solution (I posted on FB and got several folks that said their systems were much less, my old neighbor got a SEER 14 installed for 4500, including the inside and outside part.)

I run it on 75 or 76 in the summer.

Good feedback on the SEER systems. My former brother in law said the same thing too.

I've got a couple of people coming to do quotes tomorrow, including Lowe's and Home Depot, as well as a couple of others.

Thanks everybody!
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Old 08-20-2014, 08:04 PM   #10
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We went through a similar situation two summers ago with one of our three heat pumps freezing up. The first company, very reputable, gave us a similar diagnosis as you received...no sense re-
fillling cause system is old blah, blah, blah. They had quotes ready to go for new system options.

Luckily, I had a friend recommend another individual in the business. He identified and fixed a leak in the coils, refilled the system and we've been running trouble free ever since.

Makes me want to learn the trade now that I'm retired!
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Old 08-20-2014, 10:01 PM   #11
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I'd want to get a mirror in there and have a good look at the evap coils. Squeaky clean or totally clogged? I bet clogged. With very restricted air flow the system works hard but exchanges little heat and often freezes up. A thorough coil cleaning and recharge might get you in good shape for $500ish. Worth a look.

Another option is ductless mini-split systems. They are super efficient and very quiet. Traditional HVAC firms generally don't like them so you will need a specialist installer but you may be able to cover your whole house for $5k with a 18 seer system. Cool only the rooms you want to cool or cool the whole house with modern digital zone controls.
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Old 08-21-2014, 04:50 AM   #12
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FWIW, I was quoted $4500 here in Jax for an entirely new system (inside unit/heat pump, outside, outside pad, ducting to attic ducts, redirecting an intake). The independent HVAC guys (not affiliated with the chain companies) seem to be able to offer better prices/service.
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Old 08-22-2014, 05:21 AM   #13
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To post an update, my system was frozen again the next morning (Wednesday morning). The guy came back out, did a few more tests, identified some leaks in the coil, said he thought he had a spare back at the shop, and sent a couple of guys out to replace it that afternoon, and barely charged me anything for it. Yesterday afternoon I had a little scare since the house started getting hot again, bit it turned out just to be because it was so hot out yesterday, 100+ heat advisory.

I do have an unconditioned sunroom and I was asking about that and he mentioned adding a "split" to do just that room and it would be pretty inexpensive.

I think this winter once it cools down I will get some quotes and get this system replaced with a properly sized unit (I have a 3 ton now and with additions and so forth I am up to around 2200 sq ft which is above a 3 ton system I believe)

Thanks again everybody!

PS and the rough prices he gave are in line with the $4500 range that I have been hearing.

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